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1950s ship from Gulf of Naples  

As the ship pulled out of the Gulf of Naples and the Vesuvio faded away to a mere shadow in the distance, did he have second thoughts of going away and leaving his beloved land, "Bella Napoli". Did he look out to sea and break out into song, singing a classic Neapolitan love song, full of feeling, longing for their country, "Italia Mia" and longing for "la bella vita"? Maybe he was thinking about the trees in America, the ones that grew money, so the old folks of his city, Castellammare Di Stabia believed.

 

The answers to these questions allow us to understand the very essence of the dilemma, many Italian immigrants faced as they made the decision to leave their homeland and begin the long journey to a world where the streets were paved with gold.

On August 15, 1951 Vincenzo Caccioppoli arrived at a very tiny train station in New Hamburg, Ontario after a 14-day journey across the Atlantic. He carried his only worldly possessions in a small suitcase. He was greeted with joy by his sister Emilia and her husband, George who had immigrated a year early, as part of a post war recruitment of immigrants in a flourishing post war world. Rita, would arrive a year later.

Upon setting foot in Canada, his world of song, sun and family would soon be replaced by long cold winters and feelings of loneliness. A real culture shock for anyone.

The first couple years were difficult as they struggled with the language, the task of adapting to the Canadian way of life and the constant wonderment of whether or not they made the right decision.

Vincenzo Caccioppoli worked hard and long hours during those first few years in Canada, working at the factory during the day and the hot tobacco fields during the evenings and weekends. However, he was always looking for a better life! Having settled down in a farming community he decided to purchase a small farm and try his luck at farming. Vincenzo quickly realised that farming was not for him and sold the farm in 1962.

 

The Inspiration...

Another challenge in the mid 1950's was finding authentic Italian food. The only place around the Waterloo County area, was the Italian food store in Kitchener, Forte's Grocery Store. For the next ten years, my parents would drive to this store, where they and other homesick Italian immigrants could purchase Italian foods. It was a place where they would meet others from their homeland, mingle and reminisce of their Italy. It was during those trips to that small store, the seed was planted in my father's head, to perhaps one day open up a store of his own.

In 1963, my father was offered an opportunity to return to his hometown in Italy. He was promised a managerial position in Castellammare di Stabia. Knowing some English by now, the job opportunity seemed so perfect that my parents packed up 4 young children, sold all their possessions and sailed back to Italy.

Day by day my father waited patiently as this perfect job never materialized. Money was running scarce and my father soon decided he could not wait any longer. Once again, he packed up his family and returned to Canada.

 

The Bridgeport Years...

Coming to the realization that Canada was now their home, Vincenzo and Rita began plans to tackle their real dream. So in 1967, he purchased a house on Bridgeport Road in Waterloo and put up a sign that read "Italian Canadian Foods". The living room was converted into a store and there was not a lot of space left for a family of 7 people. Rita ran the store during the day, with a new baby, Carmine, by the cash register. Vincenzo continued to work at his factory job during the day. They made many sacrifices; however, Vincenzo always insisted that some day all our hard work would pay off.

Slowly, the Italian people began to make weekly trips to this little cultural meeting spot. Vincenzo was in his glory because he could now offer his customers better prices and a better selection of Italian food.

  Vincenzo Caccioppoli at the old storefront (1988} from Bridgeport Road

Vincenzo Caccioppoli at the old storefront from Bridgeport Road

 
1968 – Rita & Vincenzo

1968 – Rita & Vincenzo

 

Vincenzo started making weekly trips to Toronto, seeking out the freshest Mediterranean fruits and vegetables. We even had fresh fish from Boston flown in at Christmas and chocolate Easter eggs from Italy.

He would soon set up a very simple credit system to help those families who were in need. He would simply take their name, give them the groceries and ask them to pay what they could when they could. For over 25 years this system worked and my father never lost a penny. He worked very long hours and the store was always open. If you ask any customer what they remember the most from those early days, it's that slice of mortadella meat that Vincenzo would give out to the children, as they stood patiently waiting, watching the slicing machine.

 

By the early 1990's, the small Italian store was growing and business was good! The small brick house was not adequate to house a small fresh pasta business and a busy grocery store. So in 1990 plans were discussed to relocate to a bigger property with his two sons Tony and Carmine taking over the business. Vincenzo's hard work had paid off. It was now time for him to rest and enjoy life.

  Rita, Lucy (daughter) & Vincenzo at the Bridgeport Store

Rita, Lucy (daughter) & Vincenzo at the Bridgeport Store

 
Belmont Location, where the store was located from 1992 to 2010

Belmont Location, where the store was located from 1992 to 2010

 

In 1992, May 13th, Vincenzo passed away after suffering from cancer. Shortly before his death Tony and Carmine wheeled him into a new and bigger location that was renamed the store - VINCENZO's in his honour. The store remained at this location until January 2010.

 
 

TODAY – CAROLINE STREET

If you visit VINCENZO's today, you will often be greeted by his sons, daughters, granddaughters and other family members who help out wherever they can. Carmine, who spent his toddler years behind the counter with his mother now runs the store along with brother and co-owner Tony. 

Our mother Rita, retired from the store, would still call the store, several times a day to check in on the family business.  (Sadly, Rita passed away in May 2011)

If you come into the store you will see a picture of both Vincenzo and Rita Caccioppoli, smiling down on their store.  The little Italian Store operated by 3 now employs over 75 people. Many of the staff working at VINCENZO's shopped at the store many years ago, as young children with their parents.

  Vincenzo's store front - present day

Vincenzo's store front - present day

 

VINCENZO's today, displays a wall of old picture postcards of Napoli, Italy and a number of Newspaper articles from the past 4 decades or more. They serve as a reminder of our roots, transplanted to Canada almost 50 years ago. Right next to these postcards hangs a large photograph of father, Vincenzo Caccioppoli. As his smiling face looks down over the second generation operating the family business, this once poor immigrant would be proud to know that his dream lives on and that his roots still flourish and continue to grow, here with his family.

 

Written by Vincenzo's daughter, Lucianna Caccioppoli-Marskell

April 1999 (revised September 2015)

 

Dedicated to Vincenzo’s 6 granddaughters, Carla, Calina, Vincenza-Cassandra, Kyra, Victoria, Eve and only grandson Vincenzo (Enzo).
Special dedication to their first Great-Grandchild - Mila.